Crazy On a Ship of Fools (Part IV)
I met Ed in a parking lot. It happened to be a parking lot attached to a church. Ed rode up on a bicycle and started pilfering through the outside ashtray located just outside the doors. Of all the things to pilfer through… an ashtray. I asked him if he needed anything, if there was anything I could do to help. We exchanged names. He assured me there was nothing he needed. He opened up a sandwich bag filled with cigarette butts and began placing the newly found cigarette butts into his current collection.
Over the next few years, I would see Ed around town. I would see him in different parts of town. I would see him close to my home. Always riding a bicycle, usually carting around a dog or a bag of aluminum cans on a makeshift shelving system he had built around the back tire. When I had the chance, I talked with Ed. I had more chances to speak with people I met back then. Whatever I concerned myself with as a late teen, did not hold such urgency as the things I feel are important now. There was no more time in the day, but the days somehow seemed longer.
Ed told me he lived behind the Walmart. Someone there allowed him to run an extension cord to his camp in the woods he had made just behind a loading dock. He had a dog that he loved. He never bothered anyone. With the surplus of food tossed into the many dumpsters around the city, and his lack of concern for eating things as a “first consumer”, he was able to survive. He asked me to come over for dinner on more than one occasion and I passed on the invitation every time. If I spent my time regretting things, that declined invite would be on the top of my list of regrets. I do not know if he drank alcohol. I do not know if he had a drug habit. I do know, he was a little crazy.
I know he was a little crazy for two reasons. The first reason is our conversations. Sometimes they got a little weird. Sometimes the speech he used with conviction was filled with ideas and imaginings that were so far from reason that it was obvious, he was a little messed up. The second reason is that the same people that told him he was crazy, told me I was crazy. And folks, without a doubt, there were times in my life that I was crazy. I have the papers to prove it. But I made it through. And so did Ed, but in a different way. Our paths were different. He worked out his life’s work in a different way. I am working out mine even as I write.
Ed quit riding around town. I heard they found him lying dead at his camp, behind Walmart, with his dog pacing around his body. I heard that years ago. Ed still visits my dreams. He still creeps into my mind as I catch glimpses of people riding bicycles downtown. Oddly enough, when I read quotes and stories about respected mystics that have lived in the past, I am reminded of the stories that Ed and I shared. There is a part of me that wants to believe that Ed had it figured out. There is also a part of me that wants to pretend that Ed never existed. It is this yearning to want to figure out, to judge, to find some worth, in the life that Ed lived, that intrigues me.
I am tempted to go on and on about the crisis of mental illness in this country. I am tempted to create concern and compassion for those living on our streets (or behind Walmart). I am tempted to shame our society for not helping in some way. None of this would accomplish much. And really, who am I to do such a thing. What I will say is this.
Ed taught me a thing or two about a thing or two. He taught me that a watch is not what should govern the things you invest your time in. He taught me that just because you purchase a meal, it does mean you deserve the meal. He taught me to think of others in a different way, with a different metric, to approach others with an understanding of their place in time, not with what I was taught to think might be “best for others”. He showed me a way that was not my own, but was a way for him.
I catch myself scanning the streets for Ed. Thirty years later, and at times, I find myself looking for him. There are three things that will confirm that I have ended up in heaven. My mother will be hugging me, I will see my Jesus, and Ed will go riding by with his dog while smoking his pipe. My guess is that his smile will be a little less tortured. He might have had crazy theories that were proven correct, but he will realize that even those theories, never mattered in the first place. It is funny how a man, with very little worth in the eyes of a society concerned with returns on investment, protecting borders, and being first in a game in which they created the rules, affected me.
He made an impact. Period. I wonder if I have done anything that compares to what Ed did for me… and then I wonder, why I wonder, such things. There is nothing for me to do and there is everything for me to do. My plan for the day is to treat people with kindness. It is to hear different points of view if I have to make a decision. The plan, is to think well of others when I think of others. It is to surround them with Love if they cross my mind. It is to offer healing if that happens to be in my bag of tricks. And I am going to do this with my best intention, my best hope, and a realization that if I fail in these things, these intentions will not leave me tomorrow.
And even though I am doing these things in a corporate world, in relation to a job, or in a drive thru at some fast food joint, they are not that different than what Ed did each day. And this is both the reason life is beautiful and, at the same time, the reason it is hard to determine who “the crazy ones” are. We all have issues, but that is not the point. The point is that we all have goodness, regardless of our issues. Embrace the goodness and cultivate it. Grow it. Give it away and know you will make more. There will always be more.
Ed collected cigarette butts. He cleaned out ashtrays for people. He provided a service. He took them all. In the evening, he would clean the left over tobacco and use it for his makeshift pipe he had fashioned out of copper. He would dispose of the filters after they had been stripped. He always had enough tobacco, and his regular “stops”, or “clients”, had clean ashtrays. It was a product provided by what others had left over. Tobacco that others did not use or need any longer. But is was always provided. Maybe by chance. Maybe by consumer waste. Maybe, just maybe, by the Divine.
My son and I are making use of Ed’s life with our website. We are building it now. We believe there is money in the world which people have left over. We believe, that in exchange for some of that money, homeless and lower income individuals, might provide greeting cards. We believe, that in exchange for gifts and greeting cards, schools might use some of this money, to provide music programs, sports equipment, and technology to students. Our goal is not to simply take money from “your” place, and move it to “our” place. Our goal is to move the money around in the world. In a fair way. In a way that provides a service. Knowing it is always provided. Knowing there will always be more. Maybe by chance. Maybe, just maybe, by the Divine.
People attribute the following quote to Steve Jobs. “The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change world… are the ones that do”. No matter your inspiration. No matter your plan. Be crazy enough to think you can change the world, and I promise you, your world, the world of another, our world, will change. With a cigarette butt, a website, or a simple smile, the world will change. Maybe by chance, but maybe, just maybe, by the Divine.